When Going No-Contact Isn’t An Option: How To Manage The Toxic — But Mandatory — Relationships In Your Life
In an ideal world, we’d cut off the harmful people in our lives — exile them from our social circles and mindspace, block their number and hit the unfollow button. But in reality, that isn’t always possible.
Sometimes there are people that, for a variety of reasons, we have to keep in our lives. Maybe it’s a spiteful coworker or supervisor you’re required to work with for your job. Maybe it’s a narcissistic parent you’re just not ready to say goodbye to yet. Or maybe, as in my case, it’s an abusive ex-partner who happens to be the parent of your child.
With shared custody, going no-contact isn’t an option for me. Here are five things I’ve learned over the years that have helped me manage a relationship with a person I’d rather leave in the past.
1. Use a separate communication app.
I use WhatsApp to communicate with my family and friends, but my phone’s regular SMS app to communicate with my ex. It prevents any accidental-texts from the slip of a finger and also means that I can turn off the app’s notifications without worrying about missing any welcome communication from loved ones. Additionally, it spares me that sinking feeling of dread I’d get whenever I’d see his name among my recent contacts. Which leads me to the next bit of advice…
2. Rename the contact.
It might seem small, but changing the name of the contact can provide some emotional distance. It can also serve as a reminder for why this person is still in your phone — “[Child’s] Dad” or “My Mother” or “My Boss” can reassure you that you need this person in your phone, like it or not.
3. Go into conversations with an excuse to leave them.
I have a few go-to lines for when I have to have a non-text conversation with a toxic person: “I’m expecting an important call, but I can chat until that comes in,” “I’m in the car on the way to an appointment right now but have a couple minutes until I get there,” or “My phone is about to die, but we can talk for a few.” For in person interactions, like custody exchanges, establishing a routine or pattern of behavior that gives a sense of urgency (like keeping the car running) can keep things quick.
4. Build in wait-time before replying.
Whenever you get a text or email, establish a minimum wait time before replying. Oftentimes, our emotions are at their peak immediately after receiving that notification or reading an aggressive text or email. If I take time to myself between reading, drafting a reply and clicking send, I always feel better about the end result knowing that if nothing else, my response was measured. For in person communication, a simple “I’m going to need some time to think that over before I get back to you” can often do the trick.
5. Lean on a friend.
Every single interaction with a toxic person carries an emotional toll. Even positive ones can often lead to distress, as you sometimes find yourself questioning your labeling of that person as harmful (until the next interaction comes along to reassure you of your conviction). It’s important to take recovery time for yourself, but alone-time isn’t always the best type. Engaging with a friend or loved one can recharge your emotional energy — not necessarily by discussing the toxic interaction or getting validation for your response, but simply by reminding you that there are people in your world who genuinely care about you, and that healthy relationships are not only possible, but already a part of your life.
For more specific advice about recovering from an abusive relationship, I recommend the book “It’s My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence,” which continues to be a resource for me in my own journey towards recovery.
Note: I use affiliate links in order to earn an income from my writing. If you purchase the book using this link, I may receive a small commission.